Daily Devotional reflections

As we journey through these uncertain times, each day Sean will to seek post a thought or reflection, a Bible verse or a prayer.


Palm Sunday

Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti:

A celebration of Palm Sunday!

God’s steadfast love endures forever!

This morning begins the Great Week of the Christian Year. Although churches all round the world are closed, we are joined through the Holy Spirit with Christians of every denomination and language to call to mind, and to express in word and action the centre of the Easter mystery: our Lord's Passover from death to life. Christ entered in triumph into the Holy City to complete his work as Messiah: to suffer, to die and to rise to new life.
Today we commit ourselves to walk the way of the cross, so that, sharing his sufferings, we may be united with him in his risen life.You might like to read the following hymn slowly. Think carefully about the meaning of the words as you do so.

CH4 367

1. Hosanna, loud Hosanna
The little children sang
Through city street and temple
Their joyful welcome rang
They shouted out their praises
To Christ, the children’s friends
Who welcomes all with blessing
Whose love will never end.

2. From Olivet they followed,
A large exultant crowd
The victor palm branch waving,
And chanting clear and loud;
Bright angels join the chorus,
Beyond the cloudless sky,
“Hosanna in the highest!
Glory to God on high!”

3. “Hosanna in the highest!”
That ancient song we sing,
For Christ is our redeemer,
The Lord of heaven our King.
Oh may we ever praise him
With heart and life and voice,
And in his living presence
Eternally rejoice.

The language of that hymn describes a celebratory processions entering the city of Jerusalem, making its way towards the Temple. It paints a very different picture to our quietened cities and our deserted streets. No pilgrimage from Tarves to Barthol Chapel this year. And yet as we approach Easter, the most significant festival of the Christian year, today’s psalm reminds us that God’s steadfast love is not for a moment or even a life-time, or even a generation, but forever

Psalm 118:1-2, 5-14

1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!
2 Let Israel say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’ …
5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place.
6 With the LORD on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in mortals.
9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in princes.
10 All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
they blazed like a fire of thorns;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
14 The LORD is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

Comment

Psalm 118 is the psalm suggested by the Church for Palm Sunday. However I’ve chosen to include in our reading different verses. These verses describe the Psalmist’s battle against powerful enemies, enemies who threaten to overwhelm him, swarming around him like killer bees or blazing like a wild fire. In the face of these enemies, at a time when his strength is at its lowest ebb and he is about to collapse, the psalmist discovers that all is not lost. God is his strength and salvation. The psalm continues with the more familiar celebration of God’s life-giving victory in which the psalmist and all the people are invited to share.

The psalmist discovered that it is not enough to place our trust in other human beings, however powerful they may seem to be. And perhaps there is a message here for us as criticism of government grows and people place a huge burden of expectation on our NHS staff. Many heroes are emerging during these difficult days. Yet time and again we look, not simply for human heroes, but for human saviours.

Is this not what the crowds were looking for as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday – a great human leader who will rescue them from the Romans and bring them freedom? Below is the account of that event as we find it in Matthew’s Gospel.

St Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

Reflection

On that first Palm Sunday, the crowd welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as a hero. Here was the strong and powerful leader that God had promised, the one who would save them from their enemies. But things don’t go in the direction in which the people hope. There is no armed uprising against the occupying Roman forces. Jesus refuses to indulge in shows of power and strength. The people want someone they can follow blindly, and then no doubt blame when things go wrong. But Jesus insists that they cannot abrogate responsibility for their own share of the mess and muddle that they are in.

When we read on in Matthew’s Gospel we find that through story and action Jesus sets out the priorities of God’s kingdom. He insists on giving the last and the least, the hungry, the thirsty, the poor and the stranger their proper place. He teaches people about God’s values, values that speak of faith and hope and love beyond our imagining. And he challenges them to think about what it means to live and die by these values. This is not what the people are expecting. And four days later the crowd who shouted Hosanna are shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Today there is no doubt that in the coronavirus we face a formidable enemy, an enemy that is rampaging through our world like a swarm of bees whose hive has been destroyed, or a wild fire driven by the wind. It has taken occupation of our minds and thoughts. It has robbed us of our freedom to go about our daily lives. And we look for deliverance. But to whom do we look?

Yes we need leaders in government, planning a response to this virus. And yes we also need health care and other essential workers to look after us when we get ill and keep us supplied with food. All who perform these jobs are giving sacrificially of themselves. They are heroes and we applaud them for it – but as I have said already, they are also fallible – because they are human beings like us. Ultimately our salvation is not their responsibility and we should not burden them with it.

In contrast to this, Jesus offers a different kind of salvation – the freedom that comes from knowing that whatever the circumstances we are known and loved by God. We know this because God in Christ was prepared to share our human death that we might share his risen life. And he invites us to lay our burdens on him. Sometimes it is only when we are at our lowest ebb, in the place of deepest loneliness and isolation that we can truly appreciate the strength and power of God’s love, a love which is stronger than even death itself, a love which will not let us go. In the words of that familiar hymn by George Matheson,

O Joy, that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be”.

Today as we enter Holy Week some of us already have candles and rainbows and teddies in our windows. But I am inviting you to add to that collection a green branch – a sign of the life that Christ offers. And as you follow Jesus through a Holy Week marked by the struggle against Covid 19, let that green branch be a reminder to you that beyond, and yes even in the midst of pain and suffering and sorrow, God’s love is present and will not let you go.

Prayers for Others

Lift to God now in prayer
• Those who are ill or in hospital around the world
• All NHS staff and essential workers
• those who are seeking to manage and fight this global pandemic
• family, friends and neighbours
• other people and situations God has place on your heart today.
• the Church that we might offer a faithful witness to Christ through this time

The Lord’s prayer

Our Father in heaven
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil
For the kingdom the power and the glory re yours, now and forever.

Amen

CH4 365

1. Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
Hark! All the tribes “Hosanna” cry;
O Saviour meek, pursue thy road
With palms and scattered garments strowed.

2. Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
O Christ, thy triumphs now begin
O’er captive death and conquered sin.

3. Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
The winged squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes
To see the approaching sacrifice.

4. Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh;
The Father on his sapphire throne
Awaits his own anointed Son.

5. Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
Bow thy meek head to mortal pain
Then take, O God, thy power and reign.

Closing prayer

Merciful God,
as we enter this holy week
and gather at your house of prayer,
turn our hearts again to Jerusalem,
to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ,
that, united with Christ and all the faithful,
we may one day enter in triumph the city not made with hands,
the new Jerusalem, eternal in the heavens,
where, with you and the Holy Spirit,
Christ lives in glory forever. Amen.

Blessing

God of all,
you gave your only-begotten Son
to take the form of a servant,
and to be obedient even to death on a cross:
give us the same mind that was in Christ Jesus
that, sharing in his humility,
we may come to be with him in his glory,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Amen.

Saturday 4th April

Change and transition 5

Over the past few days, I have been recalling my experience of full time mobilised service for the Iraq war. One of the saddest duties during my time at Fallingbostel came just a week before my return to the UK. Along with the Chaplain to the Black Watch, Rev Duncan McPherson, we led a large memorial parade held in memory of Sergeant Steven Mark Roberts of 2nd Battalion Royal Tank Regiment.

He was the first British solder to die in the invasion of Iraq. There was the usual pomp and ceremony that accompany these occasions. A military band, everybody turned out in ‘number ones,’ civic and military dignitary’s and close family of Sergeant Roberts. It was a poignant and moving occasion, which culminated in the unveiling of a memorial plaque.

The tragic death of Sergeant Roberts was surrounded by controversy. He had been ordered to give up some of his personal protection equipment (body armour) as there was a significant shortage. The story goes that on 24 March 2003, he climbed out of his Challenger tank to confront a group of stone throwing protestors at Az Zubayr, near Basra. One of his colleagues fired a short burst from a turret mounted machine gun. Two people fell – Sergeant Roberts and a protestor.

The deaths of the two men came to symbolise the folly of the war, and the litany of flaws in military planning and preparation. A later inquest was held to examine the cause of death. Andrew Walker, assistant deputy coroner for Oxfordshire concluded: "To send soldiers into a combat zone without the appropriate basic equipment is, in my view, unforgivable and inexcusable and represents a breach of trust that the soldiers have in those in government.”

Death is always a sad and tragic buisness. This morning it was reported that thirteen residents in a nursing home in North Lanarkshire have passed away over the past seven days. None had been tested for Covid-19 so it is difficult to offer a definite conclusion that all the deaths were related to Coronavirus. Each day we are presented with the troubling news that the number of deaths is increasing with no clear sign that it is levelling off.

For us these statistics might make grim reading, but behind the numbers there are individuals who have passed away and families in grief. Even harder is the reality that the families have little choice about the kind of funeral they can chose. Only the simplest of service with a mere handful of mourners. These are indeed sad and difficult days.

There are a number of things I could say here.

There is clear evidence from the Bible that God shares our grief and sadness. I could talk about the hope and strength that faith brings. We still grieve. We still miss the people are no longer with us. We still feel pain and deep sadness. And there is world of different between grieving with faith and grieving without faith. However, a Christian view of death is more than the emotional experiences we go through.

A Christian view of death is that of change and transition. We change. Our physical human bodies can no longer sustain life. They return to the dust. But our inner spirit goes through a process of transition. We exchange mortality for immortality. Our physical body is traded in and we got a resurrection body that is fit for eternity (I’ll say more about this as we get closer to Easter!)

These are sad, difficult and anxious days. But let’s hold on to the hope that we have in Jesus!

REFLECT

What are your personal belief about death? Is it the end or simply a new beginning?
Does your belief give you hope or are still unclear and uncertain?
Ask God for the gift of faith and his assurance that nothing in all of creation can separate us from His love.

BIBLE READINGS

Philippians 3:20-21
But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Matthew 5:4
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Corinthians 15:54-56
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance

Book of Revelation chapter 21.verses 1-7
1 I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth;
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’
6 Then he said to me, ‘It is done!
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
7 Those who conquer will inherit these things,
and I will be their God and they will be my children.’

1 Corinthians 15 v 51 –58
Listen, I will tell you a mystery!
We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. Then the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.

PRAYERS

Father God ,
We come before you asking your mercy on us to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
We pray for those already infected with coronavirus that they may receive prompt, effective and compassionate medical care that will restore them to health.
We pray your protection and grace for all medical professionals who are courageously treating those infected with coronavirus. May they be shielded, strengthened and guided as they administer healing treatments and care.
We pray your protection over those most vulnerable to disease, for our babies, our children, our elders, our poor, disabled and those weakened by other health conditions.
We pray for those under quarantine that they might be comforted by your presence and protected from disease, anxiety and fear.
We pray for our public healthcare leaders and government agencies that they might be informed and well prepared as they deal with the coronavirus. Grant them the resources and manpower they need to use their wisdom in the best interest of public health.
We pray for the researchers who are tracking the course of the coronavirus. May they uncover patterns that will help us understand how to stay healthy.
We pray for those searching for treatments, cures and vaccines. May you guide them, reveal new ideas and accelerate their discoveries to fight this disease.
We pray for the communities, areas and countries hardest hit by coronavirus. Restore their sense of wellbeing and community. Sustain them, comfort them and give them hope.
We pray for all whose lives are disrupted by the coronavirus. We pray for families who have been separated and for those whose livelihoods have been jeopardized.
We look to you, Oh God, praying that the spread of the coronavirus will be halted and that many lives might be spared.
We pray that through this crisis you may draw us closer to you, grow our compassion and increase our knowledge.
Thank you that you are the Great Physician who not only heals us but who is a a very present help in our time of need as the Bible tells us that you “Took up all our infirmities and carried our diseases.” (Matthew 8 :17 NIV)
Thank you for hearing our prayer.
Amen.

Bless those who mourn
the death of relative or friend
and feel that with this loss
their lives are incomplete.
Bless those who mourn,
and fill these empty hearts
with pleasant memories,
the sound of laughter,
sunshine and happier days.
Bless those who mourn,
and heal their brokenness
with the soothing balm
of your gentle touch,
that they might know
shalom, wholeness, peace. Amen
For all those who woke this morning
to the loneliness of bereavement -
the empty bed or chair,
an unaccustomed quietness,
a life now incomplete -
may they know your presence
in the stillness of the day,
and through the love of friends
who offer their condolence.
And in the darker moments
may they reach out to hold your hand
and feel the warmth of the One
who has already passed from death to life
to welcome others into God’s Kingdom.

when my strength is failing

Listen to 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) - Matt Redman

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Friday 3rd April

Change & Transition Part 4

For the past few days, I have been recounting my story of being mobilised in 2003 for the Iraq War. My experience is not particularly dramatic or interesting. I had no direct contact with the war, other than supporting families and rear parties and visiting troops who had been wounded and returned to Germany. In contrast some of my unit had more excitement.
One young lady who worked on the buses in Dundee was a trained Combat Medical Technician. She was posted to the Royal Marines and found herself in a foxhole with bullets flying over her head. Some were involved in looking after prisoners of war and others ended up in Bosnia providing medical cover. The majority of the unit who were mobilised found themselves working in a field hospital. I was later told that it was mundane assignment with days spend waiting for things to happen. The field hospital ended up treating Iraqi civilians as the local health service had broken down.

The so called Iraq war was over almost as soon as it had started. There was only small scale localised opposition. Saddam Hussain’s massive army simply melted away, with many returning home. (The insurgency that caused so many casualties started later.) One of the first units to return was The Black Watch. I remember the day they flew into Hannover Airport in a chartered 747 and then bought to Fallingbostel by coach to be reunited with their families.

There were many moving scenes. With the return of the regulars and reuniting of families, my job was over. After a couple of weeks of getting back into training, the base was stood down and everyone headed off on post operational tour leave. I stayed on to allow the base chaplains to get their leave and for the final few weeks the base was almost deserted. Then came my time to head home. I booked a ferry, packed the car and headed back to Chilwell.

Looking back on those days, the key memories I have are all about change and transition. The change and transition from being a civilian Parish Minister in Aberdeen to a military Garrison Chaplain in Germany. The change from ‘war fighting’ and the stress and anxiety this placed on the families and children to when conflict transitioned to a begin occupation and everybody began to relax. And then coming home. Returning to being a civilian and parish life. It all took time and lot of emotional energy. The other thing I remember was my dog, a four-year-old Golden Retriever called Luther. For almost a week after I retuned he would not let me out of his sight! Wherever I went he followed – making sure I was not going to leave him behind again.

The parallels between what happened in 2003 and what is happening now are pretty obvious. We are all having to get use to self-isolation and staying at home to reduce the spread of the virus. Everything, apart from shops selling essential items, is closed. Even non-essential travel is banned. No nipping out for a drive in the country or taking the dogs for a wander in the hills. Even work is affected. For those fortunate to still have a job, home is the new workplace. And how will we react when the current crisis comes to pass? When the lockdown is discontinued, how long will it take to get use to going out about? Change and transition is the new order, now through self-isolation and in the future when our personal freedom being handed back.

Change and transition are central to the spiritual life. We cannot know God unless there is inward change. God has to be revealed within us. I Corinthians 2:4 puts it like this:

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.’

Note the subtlety of Paul’s writing. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can receive and have personal knowledge and understanding of spiritual things. Unless there is change and transition to experience and encounter spiritual things, that faith and religion will appear to be foolishness.

REFLECT

What changes has the Corona Virus bought into your life?
What changes do you need to make to better cope with the current situation?
What is your view of God and faith? Is God real to you?
What changes do you need to make so that your spirituality becomes more central to your life?

BIBLE READINGS

1 Corinthians 2:14-15
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments,

Isiaiah 55: 6-9
Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

John 6: 35-40
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

PRAYERS

Lord Jesus Christ, we ask you to protect us from the spread of the coronavirus.
You are powerful and merciful; let this be our prayer
“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”(Psalm 57:1)
Lord Jesus Christ, we ask you to protect us from the spread of the coronavirus.
You are powerful and merciful; let this be our prayer
“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”(Psalm 57:1)
Lord Jesus Christ, we ask you to protect us from the spread of the coronavirus. You are powerful and merciful; let this be our prayer –
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”(Psalm 57:1)
Shalom, Lord of Peace, we remember those living in coronavirus hotspots and those currently in isolation.
May they know your presence in their isolation, your peace in their turmoil and your patience in their waiting. Prince of Peace, you are powerful and merciful; let this be their prayer –
“May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. Help us, God our Saviour, for the glory of your name.” (Psalm 79:8)
God of all Comfort and Counsel, we pray for those who are grieving, reeling from the sudden loss of loved ones.
May they find your fellowship in their suffering, your comfort in their loss, and your hope in their despair. We name before you those known to us who are vulnerable and scared - the frail, the sick and the elderly.
God of all Comfort, you are powerful and merciful; may this be our prayer –
“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” (2 Corinthians 1:10)
Lord Jesus Christ, we ask you to protect us from the spread of the coronavirus. You are powerful and merciful; let this be our prayer –
“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”(Psalm 57:1)
Shalom, Lord of Peace, we remember those living in coronavirus hotspots and those currently in isolation. May they know your presence in their isolation, your peace in their turmoil and your patience in their waiting.
Prince of Peace, you are powerful and merciful; let this be their prayer – [
“May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. Help us, God our Saviour, for the glory of your name.” (Psalm 79:8)
God of all Comfort and Counsel, we pray for those who are grieving, reeling from the sudden loss of loved ones. May they find your fellowship in their suffering, your comfort in their loss, and your hope in their despair.
We name before you those known to us who are vulnerable and scared - the frail, the sick and the elderly.
God of all Comfort, you are powerful and merciful; may this be our prayer –
“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” (2 Corinthians 1:10)
Jehovah Rapha, God who heals, we pray for all medical professionals dealing daily with the intense pressures of this crisis. Grant them resilience in weariness, discernment in diagnosis, and compassion upon compassion as they care.
We thank you for the army of researchers working steadily and quietly towards a cure - give them clarity, serendipity and unexpected breakthrough today. Would you rise above this present darkness as the Sun of Righteousness with healing in your rays.
Lord Jesus Christ, we ask you to protect us from the spread of the coronavirus. You are powerful and merciful; let this be our prayer –
“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”(Psalm 57:1)
Amen

Prayer by Pete Greig & 24-7 Prayer

BLESSING

May the Father, who so loved the world that He gave His only Son, bring you by faith to His eternal life.
May Christ, who accepted the cup of sacrifice in obedience to the Father’s will, keep you steadfast as you walk with Him the way of his cross.
May the Spirit, who strengthens us to suffer with Christ that we may share His glory, set your minds on life and peace.
And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Be with you and remain with you, and with those you love, now and always. Amen

Love Divine

Listen to Love divine all loves excelling
Keswick Praise version of this traditional hymn.

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Thursday 2nd April

Change & Transition Part 3

Over the past couple of days, I have been reflecting on my mobilisation for full time service with the British Army during the Iraq war of 2003. Whilst it happened many years ago, there is a parallel, I believe, with events today. Back in 2003 I reported for duty at the Reserves Mobilisation and Training Centre in Chilwell near Nottingham. This included the change from civilian to soldier and the transition from living in the UK to 6 months living abroad. Today due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic we are having to make all sorts of changes. Changes to our daily routine such as an increased emphasis on hand washing etc. For my active, independent parents in law, they have had to transition to being home bound and isolating for at least 12 weeks. Perhaps the most challenging part for them is learning to make video calls via an IPad!

Back in 2003, I reported to duty and went through the admission process from part-time reserve to full time regular. This included medical and dental checks, writing a will, drawing extra kit and uniform and getting a lots of vaccinations. It was there that I learned I was being sent to North Germany. I was going to backfill for chaplains who had already been deployed to Iraq, although going to ‘the theatre of operations’ was still possible. So after a few days at Chilwell and visiting family in nearby Derby, I made plans to drive over to Fallingbostel – roughly half way between Hamburg and Hannover. My new job was to be an acting Garrison Chaplain with the 7th Armoured Brigade- looking after families and rear party for the Black Watch, Royal Tanks Regiment, Tank Transporter Regiment and a detachment of Royal Engineers. My job included getting involved in the local forces primary and secondary school, visiting the families’ centres, conducting worship in the garrison church and visiting troops who had been sent back from Iraq to receive medical treatment.

Whilst the job was relatively easy compared to the guys in Iraq there were a few challenging moments. Getting lost (several times), finding the children in the schools very challenging (there was an undercurrent of fear and anxiety) and trying to communicate with the organist who spoke only German. But I soon settled in and made some very good friends and became part of an English speaking congregation who worshipped every Sunday evening in a Lutheran church in Hannover. There was also a lot of pastoral work. Young soldiers who were too young to deploy and kept going off the rails. Family issues. A wedding. Hospital and home visits to the wounded troops. But the most curious things about the whole experience, is that I knew it was where God wanted me. It was only when I was there that this assurance came to me.
Reflect:

As we go through this strange and surreal time of lockdown and self-isolation, what is our understanding of God’s will? What do we feel is God’s will for us at this time? Is there some work He is wanting us to do like care for our neighbour? Is there something special and specific he is trying to teach us? May be it is only when life returns to normal and we look back on this strange period that we will begin to glimpse God’s will and purpose.

‘Sometimes we can be so busy about our lives that we forget the purpose behind them. We are driven by the demands of life and not realizing that God always has a greater purpose. His purposes not only encompass our lives, but the lives of those around us—at home, school, work, and community. C McDowell’

BIBLE READINGS

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16).

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.’ (Isaiah 26:3)

“The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5).

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9).

PRAYERS

Almighty and merciful Father, who show your love to all your creation.
We come before you asking for a quick control of the Coronavirus currently ravaging our world.
Hear graciously the prayers we make for those affected by the virus in various parts of the world.
Grant healing to the sick, eternal life to the dead and consolation to the bereaved families.
We pray that an effective medicine to combat the sickness be speedily found.
We pray for the relevant governments and health authorities that they take appropriate steps for the good of the people.
Look upon us in your mercy and forgive us our failings. Amen.
From the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences in Africa and Madagascar
The light shines in the darkness but the darkness could not overcome it (John 1:15)
Loving, ever-living and compassionate God,
You understand the pain of loss, the heartache of bereavement,
May we hold in our hearts all those whose families or friends have died.
You are a light that shines in the darkest times,
Guide us and heal us in our sickness and sorrow.
You comfort us in times of fear,
May we comfort each other, even as we keep apart.
You console and lead us in times of doubt and confusion,
May we follow the light of your love and spread hope.
You move our hearts to acts of generosity,
May we be led to share what we have with those in need.
God of life,
We thank you for the signs of your light in the midst of our darkness,
May we be signs of your compassion in the heart of your world.
Amen.

Infinite power and love
Lord God, we entrust to you the families and communities
affected by Coronavirus, wherever they may be.
We pray especially for health care workers, that you may guide and protect them.
We pray that your Spirit might inspire those researching new medicines and treatments.
And in the midst of this, keep us strong in faith, hope and love. Grant us the courage and perseverance to be good neighbours.
May the words of your Son Jesus Christ in the Our Father,
be our prayer as we entrust ourselves and all of us who are affected
to your infinite power and love.
Amen.

Adapted from an Ebola prayer by Caritas Guinea

Your loving care
Lord Jesus,
when you walked with us on earth
you spread your healing power.
We place in your loving care
all who are affected by Coronavirus.
Keep us strong in faith, hope and love.
Bring relief to our sick,
console our bereaved,
protect those who care for us.
We lift our prayer to you Lord,
and trust in your infinite mercy,
as we wait for the daybreak
Amen

How great is our God

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How Great Is Our God
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Wednesday 1 April

Change & Transition Part 2

Yesterday I spoke about the beginning of my transition from a civilian Parish Minister into a full time Army Chaplain. The week before my call up instructions arrived by post we had bought a new caravan and were looking forward to the season ahead. We were discussing whether or not to head to Cornwall (a long drive from Aberdeen!) or stay closer home. So much for holiday plans! Instead we decided to try out the new van and get a couple of nights in Braemar before I headed off.
It was still March and understandably the caravan site was virtually deserted. But it was good to chill out and we really enjoyed our time together. That was until our final night. We booked a table in a hotel outside the village and regretfully the food was awful. Given the depth of our disappointment, I still remember with clarity the food we were served.
An overcooked breast of chicken (which had been sliced up so it would cook quicker) a rather thin tasteless sauce, accompanied with soft mushy frozen vegetables. It was not the evening we had planned or intended. Bitterly disappointed, the following morning, we returned home, and having packed all my stuff into the car I headed south to report for full time mobilised service.

Change and transition comes in many different forms. Sometimes it serves as a welcome distraction to mundane routine like a starting a new dream job, moving to a new house, recovering from a long term illness, getting fit and you feel great about the results, a new colleague or manager joining the team at work and you discover that you hit it off or even the beginning of a romance.

Change and transition can be positive and affirming experiences. And the opposite can be true. Change and transition can be painful and disturbing. People losing their job or business and wondering how the mortgage is going to be paid. To this could be added a very long list of bad things. The current health crisis is leading to all sorts of disappointments. Loss of routine and personal freedom for some. For others deep grief and sadness at the loss of a loved one.

Two things than could be said here. First, where is God in all these experiences? Is God tucked away in heaven immune and separated from all these things? Or is God right beside us, journeying with us every step of the way? There is much mystery here. God will sometimes feel a million miles away and prayer and reading the Bible brings no immediate comfort or reassurance.

Yet God can sometimes feel so close with His presence surrounding us in a real and tangible way. And second, what is God doing within our experience? Could it be that change and transition is part of God’s university for the soul? That it is here that God is going his deepest work of building faith and developing character.

REFLECT

What are you feeling and thinking at the present time? Why not take your thoughts and feelings to God in prayer? And he honest here. God is not interested in false piety.
What do you God might be teaching you at the present time? How might God be shaping your life? What lessons does he wish you to learn?

BIBLE READINGS

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Deuteronomy 31:8
“The Lord himself will lead you and be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you, so do not lose courage or be afraid.”

Psalm 32: 8
“I will teach you the way you should go; I will instruct you and advise you.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; ...

Acts 9 -The Conversion of Saul
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

PRAYERS (from Christian Aid)

Prayers in a time of coronavirus
Love never fails
Even in the darkest moments, love gives hope.
Love compels us to fight against coronavirus alongside our sisters and brothers living in poverty.
Love compels us to stand together in prayer with our neighbours near and far.
Love compels us to give and act as one.
Now, it is clear that our futures are bound together more tightly than ever before.
As we pray in our individual homes – around the nation and around the world – we are united as one family.
So, let us pause and find a moment of peace, as we lift up our hearts together in prayer.

Say these prayers aloud or silently, alone or with others online.

Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession
For the health workers tending the seriously ill
for the scientists working on a vaccination
for the researchers analysing data and identifying trends
for the media outlets working to communicate reality
for the supermarket workers, hygiene and sanitation providers
for the good news stories of recoveries and effective planning
for the singing from balconies by locked-down communities
for the recognition that isolation doesn’t need to mean loneliness
for the notes through letterboxes offering help and support
for the internet and telephones and technology that connects
for the awakened appreciation of what is truly important

Thanks be to God.
For those who are unwell and concerned for loved ones
for those who were already very anxious
for those immune suppressed or compromised
for those vulnerable because of underlying conditions
for those in the ‘most at risk to coronavirus’ categories
for those watching their entire income stream dry up
for those who have no choice but to go out to work
for those who are afraid to be at home
for those who are more lonely than they've ever been
for those who are bereaved and grieving.

God be their healer, comfort and protection,
be their strength, shield and provision
be their security, safety and close companion
And raise up your Church
to be your well-washed hands and faithful feet
to be present to the pain
to respond with love in action
if even from a safe distance.
God, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Prayers for those who are afraid
Don’t be afraid.
Were these words of rebuke
or words of comfort, O God?
For we are a people of fear
as well as people of faith
who need to hear, repeatedly,
through stories, angels, prophets and
the words of Your own son -
Don’t be afraid.
Words to calm and strengthen
troubled minds and hearts
caught in an unexpected tempest
suddenly buffeted by uncertainty
afraid that you are sound asleep
help us hear Your words
above the storm -
Don’t be afraid.
Words of hope and promise
whatever the diagnosis
for wilderness wanderers
who know that lent is not forever
who are brave and honest
who let the cracks show and admit
O God, we need to hear Your words
now, more than ever -
‘Don’t be afraid.’
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’
‘And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life…
…So do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Today’s trouble is enough for today.’
So help us, O God,
Amen

Walk with the Lord

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Tuesday 31st March

Whrn I join the ranks

Change & Transition

Last summer I visited the ‘Devil’s Porridge Museum’ which tells the story of HM Factory Gretna, the largest munitions factory in the world during the First World War. It is a fascinating place and rather than the usual static exhibits behind glass, it uses artefacts, information panels, film and audio, photographs and oral histories to bring the story to life. If you are ever near Gretna or Dumfries it is well work a visit.

During my visit, I picked up a wee souvenir – a small booklet called ‘When I join the ranks’ – What to do and how not to do it! The original booklet was designed to help civilians who were called up adjust to military life. Chapter one has the title ‘The first day’ and describes in plain and simple language the process of joining up – the adjustment required, the system of rank and medical examination, billeting and pay and not forgetting the most important of all the cookhouse! My reason for the purchase is that I wanted to compare my experience, with those who were mobilised in 1914.

In 2003 the American President - George Bush, enthusiastically supported by the British Prime Minister – Tony Blair, decided the time had come to sort out Saddam Hussain and remove his so called weapons of mass destruction, which they argued posed a major threat. With the hindsight of history, we now realise the folly of the enterprise. Troops were deployed without adequate kit, there was no long term planning of what would happen to Iraq once Saddam had been removed and the weapons of mass destruction became weapons of mass disappearance. None were ever found. The whole business was a shambles. Arguably the greatest foreign policy disaster in the post war era. However as far as the Army was concerned, the potential use of chemical and biological weapons was taken very seriously.

The deployment of British troops to Iraq also included the mobilisation of the Territorial Army. In 2003 I was serving as a Chaplain to a medical unit based in Dundee – back them known as 225 (Highland) Field Ambulance. I remember setting off from home very early in the morning to be at Training Centre to watch members of the unit heading off to the uncertainty of war. It was very poignant watching people saying goodbye to their families, partners and children. Many tears were shed as people boarded the coach to take them to The Reserves Training & Mobilisation Centre, at Chetwynd Barracks near Nottingham for an intense period of training before deployment to Iraq.

Then one morning my turn came. An official looking envelope with my name fell through the letterbox. I too had been mobilised. In two weeks’ time I also had to report to Chetwynd Barracks at Chilwell near Nottingham. I remember two things from that time. First was informing my congregation in Aberdeen. It is one of the few times I have left people speechless. They were unprepared for the information I shared with them. Second, for me it was a time of great change – leaving behind Alison, the dog and the parish and adjusting to life in the regular army.

Reflect on how you are coping with change?
What are the positives? What are the negatives? What can we do to accentuate the positives? What can we do to reduce the impact of the negatives? What coping strategies do we need to develop at this strange and unusual time?
And where is God in all this? Do you sense God’s presence in your life? Is God a strengthen influence in your life? Or does he feel absent and far away?

One of the positive outcomes about change is that it encourages personal growth.
Is now the time to think more seriously about the place of faith in your life?

BIBLE READINGS

Deuteronomy 31:8 “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Proverbs 3: 5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Isaiah 43:19 “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

PRAYERS

Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Amen.

Let us pray to God,
who alone makes us dwell in safety:
For all who are affected by coronavirus,
through illness or isolation or anxiety,
that they may find relief and recovery:
Lord, hear us,
For those who are guiding our nation at this time,
and shaping national policies,
that they may make wise decisions:
Lord, hear us,
For doctors, nurses and medical researchers,
that through their skill and insights
many will be restored to health:
Lord, hear us,.
For the vulnerable and the fearful,
for the gravely ill and the dying,
that they may know your comfort and peace:
Lord, hear us,
We commend ourselves, and all for whom we pray,
to the mercy and protection of God.
Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

A prayer at bedtime
Before the ending of the day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That you, with steadfast love, would keep
Your watch around us while we sleep.
Tonight we pray especially for (names family or friends who are affected by Coronavirus) and the people of (country or place which is affected by Coronavirus).
Please give skill and wisdom to all who are caring for them.
Amen.

A prayer remembering God is with us
Lord God, you are always with me.
You are with me in the day and in the night.
You are with me when I’m happy and when I’m sad.
You are with me when I’m healthy and when I am ill.
You are with me when I am peaceful and when I am worried.
Today I am feeling (name how you are feeling) because (reasons you are feeling this way).
Help me to remember that you love me and are with me in everything today.
Amen.

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30 March 2020

Dinosaurs, Cowboys, Corona Virus and the purpose of God

This morning I heard about something rather unusual that is happening at Kinloss in Moray. One of the local residents owns a variety of fancy dress outfits. Each day, they dress up and accompanied with loud music parade around the local community waving to children who are confined indoors. One day they dressed as a pink dinosaur, and the following day dressed as a cowboy accompanied by a large inflatable horse. For children who are shut in and unable to play with friends or go to school this is a wonderful way of lifting their spirits. Similar things are happening all over place. In another village, people are displaying teddy bears in windows and children are encouraged to see how many they can count.

One of the most puzzling and counterintuitive verses in the New Testament appears in Romans 8:28.
‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’

Some people misread the verse and conclude that everything is God’s will. I personally do not believe this for one moment. Having lost good friends to cancer and been involved with families who have suffered the most awful bereavements, I cannot reconcile an informed reading of the Bible with a God who purposely inflicts pain and suffering. There are some naive people of faith who in their foolishness think they have a precise knowledge of God’s will and come out with hurtful platitudes. These folk are best avoided.

A correct reading of this verse suggests that whatever happens to us and whatever experience we go though, good or bad, painful or joyful, God will bring good from it. Here were are introduced to the wonderful mystery of God’s working among us. Don’t ask me to explain how God can bring good out of evil, or how love will always triumph in the end. In each situation and circumstance, it is always different. Sometimes, it takes years before we glimpse the result of God’s handiwork.

So what is God up to during the Coronavirus outbreak? Where is God in the midst of the fear and anxiety? Where is God in the grief of those who have lost loved ones? Is God punishing us and pouring out his judgment? Or is God doing what he usually does – bringing good out of evil and bringing joy out of sadness? Maybe the outpouring of neighbourly concern, health workers and carers putting their own wellbeing at risk and people dressing as cowboys and dinosaurs suggests something profound is happening within our communities.

Rev Sean Swindells
Cruden Parish Church

BIBLE READINGS

‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’
(Romans 8:28.)

A psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever
.
(Psalm 23)

PRAYER

Loving Heavenly Father, I come to You in Jesus’ Name to thank You for the peace, comfort and joy that I can gain from this Psalm. You promise all-encompassing provision in my life and that I will lack nothing. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

I ask You to guide me along the right path, to provide me with comfort and refreshment. In Your Name is where I can find peace, joy and a more fulfilled life. “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

It is such a blessing that no matter what destruction and chaos the evil one will bring my way, I do not need to fear because I know that You are with me and Your protection is unfailing. This continually brings me comfort. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

I appreciate the fact that wherever I am, You provide and bless me beyond what I could ever understand. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.”

Thank you that I can know that Your goodness and love towards me will never end. When You call me home I will join You in glory, praising Your Name forever and ever. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

Direct my relationship with You to be like that of a sheep to his shepherd, where I rely on You in total trust for everything in my life at all times
In Jesus’ Name

Amen.

(Elton Streyle)

Remember those who are suffering and struggling.
Remember those who are serving and sacrificing
Remember those who lives are drawing to a close and their families.
Pray that when we emerge from this crisis we will be better people and a better nation.

A blessing

May the path
that Christ walks
to bring justice
upon the earth,
to bring light
to those who sit
in darkness,
to bring out those
who live in bondage,
to bring new things
to all creation:
may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Amen

10,000 reasons

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